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Audio Software on the Cheap

Production tools for little to nothing. Do you really get what you pay for?

If you’re anything like me, you are (aside from being extremely good looking) a colossal cheapskate.

While I’m not the sort of guy who will drive miles out of my way to avoid a toll booth (don’t laugh, I have an uncle who used to do just that), I just don’t like spending any more than I absolutely have to. If you’re a station manager operating a small station on a tight budget, you can relate.

Is it possible to produce professional audio without blowing your entire engineering budget for the year?

There are options for the frugal (or just plain broke) audio producer, ranging from relatively inexpensive to free.

For the sake of this discussion I decided to limit our budget to $100, a price point well below popular applications in use at most radio stations. Features, ease of installation and learning curve also were considerations.

After searching for viable candidates among the industry’s heavy hitters, and a few not-so-heavies, I narrowed our search to seven contenders. In order to prove the viability of some standouts, I had a team of production engineers, using demos of these programs, attempt to actually produce airworthy spots.

Here I tell you about two of them. In subsequent issues I’ll look the others and offer some overall conclusions.

$99 — Ableton Live Intro

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Ableton’s Live Intro has a layout different from that of any other audio editor I’ve used.

Ableton’s Live Intro had a layout different from that of any other audio editor I’ve used.

Essentially, it is a loop-based music production tool. Fortunately, the program incorporates interactive “lessons” to guide the uninitiated. Recording raw audio took a trip through a few such lessons. Since it’s intended for music production, everything that gets recorded is automatically handled in terms of beats and measures, making precise edits nearly impossible. For creating custom music beds using the included content, this program is very useful. The steep learning curve, though, was a huge hurdle, even in light of excellent built-in tutorials.

Free — Sony Acid Express

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Sony Acid Express is great for generating music beds as well as recording and editing audio.

I had the opportunity to review this program’s big sister, Acid Pro 7, in the Feb. 1, 2009 issue of Radio World.

Acid Express is basically a stripped-down version of Acid Pro, limited to 10 tracks of audio at 16-bit/48 kHz maximum, no VST or DirectX support and no effects. (There’s Acid Music Studio, which sells for $69.95 and falls somewhere in between feature-wise.)

Downloading requires free membership in the Acid Planet online forum, which also gives you access to free loops, samples and other content. It was great for generating music beds as well as recording and editing audio. If it were only used for creating production music, it would save money. Recording and editing was very easy but the lack of effects was an issue. Another annoyance was the sales pitch to upgrade to Acid Music Studio or Acid Pro every time the program was closed.

I suppose one could regard this program as a glorified infomercial for those versions.

Next time: Acoustica Mixcraft, NCH Mixpad and n-Track Studio 6.

What’s your favorite production software and why? Write to [email protected]. Curt Yengst, CSRE, is assistant engineer for WAWZ(FM) in Zarephath, N.J.